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Suicide attackers assault U.N. office in Afghanistan

/ Source: The Associated Press

A suicide car bomber and three armed militants wearing explosives vests and dressed as women attacked a United Nations compound Saturday in western Afghanistan, but Afghan security forces killed the attackers and no U.N. employees were harmed, officials said.

The brazen attack began when four militants drove up to the U.N. compound in a car laden with explosives and fired a rocket toward the entrance, said Dilawar Shah Dilawar, deputy police chief of Herat province.

The militants tried unsuccessfully to blow up the gate with the rocket so they could drive the car inside the compound, he said. When that didn't work, three of the militants got out of the car and the fourth blew up the vehicle, killing himself. The explosion destroyed the gate, allowing the three to get inside.

"The three attackers were wearing police uniforms covered with burqas," Dilawar said, referring to the long, flowing garment that many Afghan women wear in public. "All of them had suicide vests and AK-47s."

Militants sometimes wear burqas or police uniforms as a disguise. The Interior Ministry denied the attackers were wearing police uniforms.

Guards at the U.N. compound and Afghan policemen who responded to the site engaged in sporadic gun fights with the three attackers, who were killed by Afghan security forces. NATO forces also responded, a statement by the U.N. said. Two Afghan guards were wounded.

"The attack did not disrupt the United Nations activities and no United Nations personnel was injured," the statement said. It said the U.N. will continue its work in Herat.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the assault, and said the United Nations is conducting a full investigation, a spokesperson for Ban said in a separate statement.

The attack was similar to one in July in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan where Taliban suicide attackers used a car to blow a hole in the wall of a compound of a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Five men wearing suicide bomb vests then poured into the compound and fought a five-hour gunbattle with Afghan security forces before being killed. A Briton, a German and two Afghans were killed in the attack.

In October 2009, Taliban militants attacked a guesthouse used by United Nations workers in central Kabul. Eight people were killed, including five foreigners working for the U.N.

Separately, NATO forces killed two civilians, including a teenage boy, during a fight with insurgents Saturday in Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan, according to Mohammad Halim Fidai, the governor of the province. The deaths prompted hundreds of residents to stage a demonstration that blocked a highway for nearly an hour.

The coalition could not confirm the two deaths. NATO said that after insurgents attacked a patrol with a homemade bomb, the troops stopped to investigate the explosion. After they stopped, they received fire from an unknown number of insurgents, the coalition said. During the fighting, the coalition said two Afghans fell off a motorcycle and were taken away by villagers so their conditions could not be verified.

Also in the east, U.S. special forces, NATO troops and the Afghan army killed more than 10 insurgents and recovered four weapons caches during a four-day operation that ended Wednesday in Dara-i-Pech district of Kunar province, NATO said Saturday.

In southern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up before reaching a checkpoint in Kandahar, killing two civilians and wounding two others, said police chief Sardar Mohammad Zazai. Three other bombs — two in cars and one in a motorbike — were defused around the city after bombers left them on main roads and suspicious citizens called the police, said the provincial governor's spokesman, Zelmai Ayubi.

NATO troops and Afghan forces began flooding into Kandahar in July as part of a push to wrest back control of the south from Taliban insurgents. Some pockets of control have been established in Kandahar and neighboring districts but roadside bombs are still common.

A Danish soldier was killed in southern Helmand province after insurgents attacked his patrol on Saturday, the Danish army said.

In a separate incident, a photographer for The New York Times was seriously injured when he stepped on a mine Saturday in Kandahar province.

Joao Silva, 44, received leg injuries from the blast, which occurred while he was accompanying American soldiers on patrol in the Arghandab district. Silva was evacuated to Kandahar Air Field where he was receiving treatment, according to the newspaper.

No U.S. troops were wounded in the morning explosion.

A group of minesweepers and bomb-sniffing dogs had just moved over the area and were several steps ahead of Silva when the bomb went off, the newspaper said. Homemade bombs and mines cause the majority of deaths and injuries among U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Bombs made with small amounts of metal are difficult to detect.

Silva and a New York Times reporter were embedded with a unit of the 101st Airborne Division.

Silva, who has received several awards for his work, has photographed wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, southern Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East.

"Joao is the state-of-the-art war photographer, fearless but careful, with an amazing eye," said Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times. "We're all waiting anxiously and praying for his quick recovery."

In August 2009, CBS Radio News correspondent Cami McCormick was seriously injured when the Army vehicle in which she was riding struck a bomb south of Kabul. That same month, two journalists for The Associated Press — photographer Emilio Morenatti and videographer Andi Jatmiko — were wounded along with two U.S. soldiers by a bomb — also in Kandahar province.

Associated Press Writers Katharine Houreld in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.